Research & Insights

By Justin Tenuto, March 6, 2015

3 Steps to Opening the Worst McDonald’s on the Planet

Theoretically, each McDonald’s should be more or less identical. The menu in Fresno is the menu in Detroit, the soda is always Coke, and the burgers aren’t so much cooked as they are created by flavor technicians in a chemistry lab where salinization is of the highest priority.

The thing of it is, we all know that’s not true. Some McDonald’s are better than other McDonald’s. To put it another way: some share a neighborhood with the marbled antiquities of Rome; others are connected to a gas station where a stabbing took place.

What we wanted to look into was why a particular McDonald’s was worse than another. After all, you know what Mickey D’s has to offer. You know what to expect. So what traits submarine a particular location of a franchise famous for irregular chicken parts? Is it rudeness? Is it price? Is it cleanliness? Exactly how do you build the worst McDonald’s in the world?


We’re off to a good start.

Step 1: Hire for surliness

To figure out how what irks McDonald’s customers most, we looked into online reviews. First, we selected 15 random metropolitan areas in the U.S. Then, we found the ones that were rated 2 stars or fewer. Next, we scraped the reviews and ran a sentiment analysis job in which asked our contributors to classify what the complaints were actually about. The most frequent gripe? Rude service.


That’s right, gang. We looked at 1500 reviews and a solid third of them cited rude service as the reason that particular McDonald’s was “THE WORST MCDONALD’S IN THE WORLD.” That’s 33%. Some memorable moments included staff giving a customer a roll of pennies as change for a dollar, stealing a patron’s Monopoly pieces, and comparing a customer to a particular bodily orifice.

Step 2: Take your sweet, sweet time

If it isn’t rude service, it’s slow service. Which is to say, when we go to a fast food restaurant, we want our food fast. A quarter of all low ranking franchises received complaints about the speed of service, either inside the location proper or in the sort of drive-thru lines where you can actually watch your beard grow.


Step 3: Interpret orders liberally

336 of the 1500 reviews we looked at had issues with their food. But not the overall quality of a Big Mac or the pressed swine fragments sporadically released as the McRib. Rather, what we hate is ordering the former and getting the latter.

Moreover, all three grievances were frequently contained in a single review. There were times when the service was so bad that it crippled the reviewer’s ability to use anything approaching proper punctuation.


Sadly, we were unable to include the negative 100 stars in our original franchise rankings. We’re working diligent to correct the error.

Customer service matters even more than you think it does

Which is all to say that customer service really matters. There’s a reason we swoon about companies like USAA and are generally less enthused about their cable television provider: not only are we responding to value, we simply want to be treated decently. We want to feel like we matter. Customer service manifests itself differently in every industry, but the bottom line is always: be nice, be responsive, and give customers what they want.

In other words: don’t be rude, don’t be slow, get the order right.

(We noted just a week ago how airline customer service handles receive the most grief about the customer service itself, not the late flights, lost luggage, or absence of a complimentary SkyMall. There’s a pattern here.)

Even when locations were truly grim, service was still the biggest issue. Take this McDonald’s location, for example. Even though it “smells like sewage…”


…our reviewer also takes time to call out the employees themselves. In fact, most of the other reviews for that location centered around the slow service or rude staff or missing Happy Meal toys even while noting the dirtiness of the location and a certain, pungent aroma.

There’s a reason there’s a thing called a McJob. There’s a reason that McDonald’s didn’t want that term put into the dictionary in the first place. But even if the job itself is low-paying and, frankly, a bit on the thankless side, if folks are generally polite and make an effort to get patrons what they order in a reasonable amount of time, you’d see a lot more three, four, and five star fast food restaurants than you do.

In fact, a look into the higher ranking McDonald’s we looked at showed us exactly that. Most of those reviews centered on the food or how fast the service was. Which makes sense, of course. We know what to expect when we pay a dollar for a beef patty, a sesame bun, and whatever that jaundiced goo on top of the burger is. What varies wildly is who is actually serving you that meal. And that’s the difference between a good McDonald’s and a bad one.

This sentiment analysis job was run on CrowdFlower. The full, enriched data set can be found in our Data for Everyone Library, a collection of open source data sets available free of charge for academics and enterprises.